Updated October 22nd, 2018.
Only 100 miles northwest of Peru’s Cuidad Blanca, Arequipa and surrounded by snow-capped mountains and volcanoes lies the Colca Canyon. At 4160 metres, it’s the second deepest canyon in the world, only surpassed by its big, Peruvian brother, Cotahuasi.
Everything about this place is extreme; the mountains; the altitude; the blistering heat of the day; the cold of the night; the giant birds; all combining to remind you just how small you really are.
By far the most common route to get to Colca is with an organised tour from Arequipa, which will pick you up early in the morning and whisk you round in a minibus, stopping for the photos at all the best viewpoints and it’s all quite cheap too. We met several backpackers who had paid as little as 70 soles ($25USD) for a two-day trip to the canyon, with the main sites, like the Condors and volcanic hot springs included. (Not including the 70 Soles entrance ticket). Bargain! If you’re more adventurous and want to start trekking through the canyon itself, then be prepared to pay quite a bit more.
However, despite the obvious value for money offered by the various tour companies, sometimes you just want a bit more freedom. Even though there’s no significant savings, you want to feel like you’re doing things on your own terms and not just being herded around like obedient foreign sheep!
Here’s a nice and easy way for you to travel independently (more or less) from Arequipa to Colca Canyon.
How to get there:
It’s actually relatively easy to get yourself from Arequipa to the town of Chivay in the Colca Valley, near the start of the Colca Canyon.
There are a number of local bus companies offering transport to Chivay and any travel agent can book them for you. We used Arequipa Tours, paid only 15 soles ($5) and actually felt like the minibus was going to stay firmly connected to the road! Not only that, but you can leave at pretty much any time of day you like, not just at 6am! You also have that nice warm feeling inside that comes only from being on a bus surrounded by local folks, which makes our journeys more authentic, right?!
Where to stay
When you arrive in Chivay, rather than being chauffeured directly to a hostel, you are faced with an important decision – where to stay? There are plenty of options in Chivay and you can walk to the main plaza from the bus station, or take a moto-taxi / rickshaw thing which are pretty cheap. We actually opted for the smaller and slightly more picturesque town of Yanque, just a few minutes’ drive from Chivay where you have no shortage of choices, from clean and comfortable budget hostels, to super-luxury hotel resorts with underfloor heating and a buffet breakfast! Here’s a couple of them to whet your appetites.
El Tambo Hostal – Located just away from Yanque’s main plaza, the plain and unassuming exterior hides a beautifully crafted garden with traditional whitewashed buildings, overlooked only by the surrounding mountains. Good value for money.
Flash Packer Luxury:
Colca Lodge Spa and Hot Springs – If you fancy a break from hostels and are in need of some super rejuvenation then get yourself booked into this place. This high class eco-lodge has everything you would expect from a 5-star hotel, with the addition of mountain views, natural volcanic hot springs and even its own Alpaca farm! Room per night with buffet breakfast – $160 to $230 – we know it’s a splurge, but well worth it!
Things to do
- Los Tambos Hot Springs – If you opt for the backpacker accommodation, don’t worry, there’s still a special place for you to relax in a natural hot spring. Los Tambos Hot Springs is actually just around the corner from Colca Lodge and you can walk there from Yanque in just 15 minutes. Just make your way over the traditional rope bridge to soothe your aching muscles and soak up the minerals in 35-40°C water, all whilst taking in the breath-taking mountain scenery. (Price – 15 Soles for the hot springs and only 5 Soles if you just want to cross the bridge for the view.)
- Chacapi to Yanque Trek – If you don’t feel like going straight back to hostel for a nap after the hot springs, this gentle 4.5km trek will give you a much more scenic route back into town. (Price – Nothing!)
- Traditional Dancing in Yanque – Wake up early to see a daily display of traditional Peruvian dance around the main square. (Price – Nothing! Unless you feel like tipping the dancers at the end. There are a lot of them though!)
- Zip Lining – Colca Zip Lining offers high speed, heights and amazing instruction and guidance from David and Luis. Choose one or more lines to fly across the valley, or conquer them all for the chance to scale the high cliffs and take on The Monster – a 500 metre rush of air and adrenaline from one side of the valley to the other. If you’re lucky, they might even let you spin upside down on the final run! (Price – Approx $50 for the whole course, which takes at least 2 hours! To get there it costs just 1 Sole p/p in a shared taxi from Chivay Plaza.)
So what next?
Condor spotting and trekking in the Colca Canyon!
Up until now you will have avoided paying the 70 Soles entrance fee to enter the Canyon itself, but if you planning on trekking down to the Oasis Sangalle then it’s well worth it. This is the most common tour amongst tourists, but if you’re looking for something a little different, away from the beaten path, then ask Gloria at Arequipa Tours about some of their ‘special routes’ that will take you further into the wilderness. (Just say South America Backpacker sent you – wink wink).
The amazing Colca Canyon!
You won’t believe the size of these incredibly graceful birds!
This Article Was Written By:
South America Backpacker Ambassadors, Jon and Kach Howe, of Two Monkeys Travel. The adventurous couple, from the Philippines and the UK, have been travelling and working for 16 months; starting in South East Asia, via India to South America! You can follow the inspirational ‘Two Monkeys’ on Facebook here!